With Jessica Korda in close on the 16th hole at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, Danielle Kang knew she needed to make a birdie of her own to maintain her one-shot lead. Putting from off the green, Kang was interrupted by a gas cart starting up to shuttle volunteers back to the clubhouse. She went back to the beginning of her pre-shot routine, only to be interrupted again. “I’m just going to wait,” Kang said, laughing it off. “We’ll be waiting on the next tee anyways.”
The final round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions was an opportunity for the LPGA Tour to start 2021 with a bang. Three top American players—Danielle Kang, Nelly Korda, and Jessica Korda—separated themselves from the field and were ready for a Sunday showdown on network television.
It turned out to be a worthy battle. The Korda sisters both made charges at Kang, and Jessica prevailed with a playoff birdie. Yet for viewers at home, the day looked like a failure.
The first hour of Sunday’s telecast on Golf Channel was decent, highlighting shots from most of the women in the field. But when NBC took over for the final nine—you know, when the most important part of the tournament was unfolding—the coverage became borderline unwatchable. The broadcast was filled with celebrity interviews, commercials, and other nonsense that distracted from three of the best players in the world vying for a title. According to one intrepid viewer, nearly 63% percent of the broadcast was devoted to something other than a professional golfer hitting a golf shot.
Did a full breakdown of broadcast. Shots shown by pros & celebrities, & the length of air time of all shots(within a second or 2)
Pros: 69 shots, 45 mins, 37.5% of air time
Celebs: 45 shots, 25 mins, 21% of air time
Ads & leaderboards: 32 mins, 27% of air time
— Mark Leitch (@LeitchGolf87) January 25, 2021
More egregious than the lack of televised shots, however, was the pace of play. At multiple points on the back nine, the Korda-Korda-Kang group waited more than 10 minutes between shots. One of those pauses consumed NBC’s opening segment. The first 13 minutes of the network’s broadcast featured just one shot from an LPGA Tour player: a putt from Lexi Thompson. We didn’t see anything from the final group until well into the coverage—not because NBC was avoiding them, but because the leaders were waiting on the 13th tee.
Here’s what it came down to: three of the most marketable Americans in the women’s game were MIA in the opening minutes of a national telecast because they were stuck behind a retired tennis pro, a former NFL kicker, and the Yankees center fielder. Those amateurs were, in turn, stuck behind other amateurs ahead of them.
So the poor viewing experience wasn’t entirely NBC’s fault. Of the 90 players in the field, just 25 were professionals, some of whom had finished their rounds by the time NBC’s coverage started. With Kang and the Korda sisters dusting the rest of the field, the network didn’t have many in-the-hunt pros to show.
The big issue here was with the organization of the event. It can be a smart move to use the pro-am to add an event to the LPGA calendar and attract new fans. But the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions leans so heavily on its “celebrities” that the professionals tend to get lost in the shuffle.
Granted, pro-ams have been a part of pro golf for decades, the most famous (or infamous) being the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. CBS’s Saturay coverage of the tournament is almost always one of the most dreadful viewing experiences of the PGA Tour season: nonstop footage of B-listers and athletes hitting terrible shots and giving vapid interviews about how much fun they’re having and how beautiful the course looks.
But that’s Saturday. On Sunday, when the tournament is actually on the line, CBS shifts the focus to the pros and their efforts to win at one of the country’s finest courses.
Perhaps the coverage of the final round of the Diamond Resorts TOC was doomed from the outset. It was going up against not only the final round of a PGA Tour event but also an NFL conference championship game. Still, this was a network telecast featuring LPGA Tour players. That doesn’t happen as often as it should. The fans who tuned in were likely diehards, and they were hung out to dry.
Last month, during the U.S. Women’s Open, the USGA and Golf Channel pushed a social campaign around the hashtag #womenworthwatching. The intention was purportedly to raise the visibility of women’s golf and highlight gender disparities in modern sports coverage. Ironically, that week, viewers had to flip between NBC, Golf Channel, Golf Channel dot com, and NBC’s streaming service Peacock in order to follow the action. During one stretch, Golf Channel even gave preference to the QBE Shootout, an unofficial PGA Tour event, leaving the major championship to stream on Golf Channel’s glitchy website.
If the LPGA is going to continue the momentum that tour commissioner Mike Whan and his team have built up over the past decade, the product needs to be the priority. Broadcast partners and sponsors have to be persuaded to put their full weight behind women’s events, showing that they truly believe in the social media campaigns they promote.
Sunday’s battle between Danielle Kang, Nelly Korda, and Jessica Korda was fantastic. But it wasn’t a priority, and that needs to change.